Our pick of the best reef safe sunscreens

Sunblock could harming the environment more than you think. Zinc formulations are the best for protecting the ocean, as well as your skin. Here’s the best, according to body+soul. 

By now you must know sunscreen is a non-negotiable. It’s not just to prevent skin cancer. News flash: it’s the key to preventing ageing, too. When it comes to finding a formulation, there’s the common chemical ingredients such as oxybenzone and octinoxate found in regular sunscreens that work to filter UV rays, protecting your complexion from the sun. However, some experts assume they can cause damage to both marine life and coral reefs.

Luckily the beauty industry is listening, with a tonne of ‘reef-friendly’ formulations heading to a beach bag near you. They focus on the active ingredient zinc oxide, also known as a physical or mineral sunscreen, that work to create a barrier between UVA and UVB rays and your skin.

However, it’s important to note that the impact of zinc oxide on coral is still under investigation so err on the side of caution. Lisa Patulny, founder of Call Time On Melanoma says, “The science on ‘reef safe’ sunscreens is by no means settled. Experts don’t agree that Hawaii’s move to ban two ‘chemical’ sunscreen filters by 2021 was justified or even wise. (Some believe it has added to consumer confusion around the safety of sunscreens and diverted attention away from the primary cause of coral bleaching—climate change).”

When it comes to the term ‘reef safe’ it’s worth doing your own research. “As of right now, ‘reef safe’ is a marketing term with no fixed meaning,” explains Patulny. “That said, you can assume it probably means the product it’s referring to it being free from the two aforementioned sunscreen filters, oxybenzone and octinoxate. While I am for consumers having the choice to buy ‘reef safe’ in the event it may contribute to coral bleaching; I am against brands using incomplete data to inform their marketing strategy. For instance, many sunscreens that make ‘reef safe’ claims contain zinc oxide which has been shown to have similar effects on coral, however, this fact is often unknown to the brand (bad) or not reported (worse).”

As with all sunscreen it’s important to avoid prolonged exposed to the sun and to slip, slop, slap, slide and shade (yep, they’re new). Here we’ve rounded up the best zinc tubes…

Best for: dehydrated skin

Edible Beauty Basking Beauty Natural Sunscreen SPF 50+ ($39, at Edible Beauty)
A physical UVA and UVB filter formulated with natural zinc oxide, coconut, rosehip and camellia seed oils and Kakadu plum. Free from nasties and made solely from plant-derived goodies. It’s lightweight so goes on in one smooth application with no drag, is wearable for everyday and doesn’t leave a weird, chalky finish all over your face. Plus, it’s four hours water-resistant – so great for beach days, too.

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Best for: oily skin

Ocean Australia Mineral Sunscreen SPF 50+ Face Sunscreen ($19.99, at Ocean Australia)
Whether you’re outdoors or not sunscreen should be a step in your everyday routine. This zinc drop is free from irritants and packed with vitamin E to help moisturise as it protects. Apply with warm fingertips and massage into skin to help with any potential white residue.

Best for: replacing your foundation

Invisible Zinc SPF 50+ Sheer Defence Tinted Moisturiser ($20.39, at Chemist Warehouse)
Zinc sunscreens often get a bad rap thanks to old-school formulations that left skin ghostly white, dry and irritated. But thanks to product innovation and ingredient developments that’s no longer the case. This guy, for example is light weight but still SPF50, it’s also made for sensitive skin types and it’s tinted so can double as your foundation for everyday wear.

Best for: sunscreen haters

People4Ocean SPF30 Sunscreen ($49, at People 4 Ocean)
This Aussie-made protectant not only works to shield your skin from harmful rays but our reefs too, with $1 from every sale donated to coral restoration projects. Zinc is blended with grapeseed, jojoba, safflower, lavender, patchouli and geranium oils as well as cucumber and carrot extracts.

Best for: the whole family

Little Urchin Natural Sunscreen SPF 30 ($24.95, at Nourished Life)
Green tea, cucumber and rosehip extracts work to soothe and calm sensitised skin and complexions prone to post-sun flare ups. This drop is silky so glides over skin with no dragging or pulling, plus it’s clear so won’t leave any residue.

Best for: zinc haters

Sun Bum Original Sunscreen Spray SPF 15 ($15.99, at Sun Bum)
We get it, zinc can sometimes we uncomfortable to wear and to apply. This spray formula is super silky and lightweight and has extra slip so is easily absorbed into skin. It’s free from both oxybenzone and octinoxate and made from a protecting blend of key ingredients including homosalate and avobenzone. It’s reef-safe but won’t leave skin with any white residue.

Avoid prolonged high-risk sun exposure, apply in accordance with directions for effective sun protection. Always read the label and see directions for use.